I’ve been reviewing the blurbs you all have posted and I realized that the best feedback I can give in this challenge is to offer methods and ideas for developing and testing your game. While the idea of playtesting early and often is seriously good advice, a dozen multi-year playtests interspersed with redesigns requires a tremendous amount of patience and focus. Fortunately, there are numerous ways to test outside of the full scope, while still giving you valuable information: desk-checking solitaire techniques, micro-playtests, cognitive science analyses of event distributions. These work like computer modelling and wind tunnels do for aeronautic design, valuable tools before putting in the expense and effort of the full test flight. I want to offer what I hope will be useful suggestions in how to decompose and attack your game so you can make some real progress over next month.

Which is a good deal more effort on my part than just saying what I like about each blurb. Unfortunately, illness and work deadlines have thrown a spanner into my own planned deadline. in giving feedback. Still, I expect to be rolling out those discussions over the next few days.

I see there are many ideas percolating for long term gaming. You can post or link your Game Summary here or on the Google+ community I’ve set up to discuss designs.

And don’t forget to let me know if you want to discuss your game in person at Dreamation next week.

Genre Invention

February 8, 2013

Genre emulation is a very common goal in playing and designing games. In the most general sense, this means that as you play the game you create something resembling an artistic work in some pre-existing category*. Often this emulation is almost wilfully imperfect, the classic Dungeons and Dragons play rarely created a perfect emulation of traditional fantasy fiction or the wargames from which it was birthed. Instead, apparently accidentally, it created a new category of fiction, which we might call D&D fantasy. And entire movements in game play and design have arisen trying to better emulate that genre.

It is impressive that D&D has created a new genre, but not immediately surprising. Periodically a new genre is created, often based on a seminal work. But in the case of D&D that genre really is RPGs, a genre of games of which D&D is a crucial, trend-setting example. The emergence of D&D fantasy says that this one invention created two very different genres at the same time – one in terms of construction and another in terms of its product. Indeed the process of play can produce more than one new form of art, just look at the creation of dungeons and their maps.

To me, the question raised by all of this is whether D&D is some unique case, or if we can invent new genres accidentally or even intentionally so that they arise during play. This is something that makes designing RPGs, story games, or what have you into something distinct from other kinds of art, it is a form of expression that begets other forms of expression. So what happens when we start looking at designing and intentionally playing games in such a way as to explore and create new genres, new configurations of fiction and ideas? That’s just one of the frontiers I look forward to exploring.

* In Forge-style terms, this includes both Story Now (Narrativism) and Right to Dream (Simulationism), the crucial difference being the choice of category. It also suggests there is tremendous space beyond these agendas, such as emulating poetic forms.

Campaign length games are pretty uncommon among Indie community games, I’d like to see that change.

The Premise: Design a game meant to be played in regular sessions over the course of one or more years with an Indie community sensibility to it, meaning that your game should have a system that matters, and matters in new ways over the course of months and years of play.

The Challenges: To spur your creativity and make this challenge more interesting, I’ve worked out five challenges. You must pick at least one challenge as part of your design, but you can attempt as many as you like, even all five. These are also the criteria under which the games will be judged.

  • Flexible Footprint Challenge – a common criticism of long form games is that they represent a significant social footprint, requiring folks to commit to regularly attending many sessions over months and years with each other. The challenge here is to turn this on its head, being flexible about who attends, how long the sessions can be, and the ways in which players can contribute to the game, all to adapt to changes in player lives and schedules.
  • No Advancement Challenge – the most common campaign arc for RPGs is the advancement arc where characters accumulate power, wealth, or skill over many play sessions. The challenge here is to not fall back to this approach, to let characters change but not to simply make them better, but keeping an engaging evolution.
  • Indie Extrapolation Challenge – hacking one game to build the foundation of another is an essential part of the Indie community. The challenge here is to take a short form Indie community game and build and translate from it into game which spans a year or longer, while still retaining some of the essential nature of the original game.
  • Self-Transforming Challenge – during long form games the rules of play often evolve as the players build their own play culture, often solidifying into traditions and house rules. The challenge here is to support the evolution of your game into a system unique to the particular group, while keeping this transformation from coming to an end or hurting the player’s enjoyment of the game.
  • Pure Innovation Challenge – some folks look down on innovation for its own sake, I don’t. The challenge here is to discover or re-discover largely unexplored design territory within your game, while still making sure your game works.

The Ingredients: In addition to the challenges here are four terms to use in inspiring your game. For the initial draft, choose at least three and for the revised draft you must keep at least one of these ingredients.

  • Fever
  • Tree
  • Occupation
  • Fool

Milestones: As a departure from most design challenges in recent years, the Longest Game occurs over two months, February and March. In February you will come up with your design inspiration and write a basic, albeit possibly incomplete draft of your design. During March you will develop your game, doing micro-playtests and other analyses to understand what your game does and to decide which parts might work and which definitely do not. By the end of March, you complete a revised draft, ready to be playtested for its full-length. Along the way I (and others if they wish) will be helping you by providing feedback and assisting in development where possible.

  • February 1st – The Challenge Begins
  • February 15th – Deadline for Game Summaries: a 30-second plug line, a brief description of what play looks like, and a brief plan for the system. If you get yours in by this point, I’ll get back to you with feedback on it by the next weekend (in person if you’ll be at Dreamation).
  • February 28th – Initial Drafts
  • March 15th – Development and Micro-Playtesting Reports: let us know how your development process is going and where you need help.
  • March 31st – Revised Draft, ready for proper playtesting